Procedures for providing or reviewing references
Many Dalhousie employees are routinely asked to provide or review references. Faculty members frequently receive requests for letters of recommendation from students seeking employment or admission to other academic programs and institutions. Department heads, administrators, and supervisors are often asked to provide references for staff members seeking other employment opportunities, or to review letters of recommendation and to contact referees in the course of hiring new staff.
The following summary is intended to assist those employees involved in giving or reviewing references for current or prospective staff in the course of their employment at Dalhousie. For further information, please contact Human Resources.
There is no obligation to provide a reference, but if an individual chooses to do so, care must be taken to ensure that the reference is truthful, accurate, and balanced. Providing a reference that contains false or malicious statements may result in an action for defamation by the person who is the subject of the reference. In addition, a reference that misrepresents the individual, who is the subject of the reference, could open the writer up to a claim of misrepresentation.
A favorable reference that omits relevant negative facts about an employee may result in claims of misrepresentation or non-disclosure by an employer who receives and acts on the reference and suffers damage as a result. Care should be taken to ensure that an unfavorable reference in particular, is limited to only facts and not statements of opinion. If the referee has any concerns about a reference he or she has written, he/she should have it reviewed by others in the department who are familiar with the employee.
Providing a reference at the request of an employee who has been terminated can be particularly difficult. In such instances, only persons who have direct knowledge of the employee's position and who possess factual information about his/her performance should provide a reference. The reference should include an analysis of strengths as well as areas of improvement and development. Contact Human Resources for advice and guidance.
Employees responsible for hiring in their department will frequently need to contact references provided by individuals seeking employment at Dalhousie. References should be checked in consultation with Human Resources.
Use the following guidelines when conducting reference checks:
- References provided by an individual seeking employment should only be contacted when the individual is being considered seriously for a position. Hiring units need to be mindful that job applicants may not have advised current employers of their application and it may have a negative impact.
- Ensure appropriate permission has been obtained from candidate before proceeding with reference checks. Candidates are normally asked to give such permission during the interview or following the interview after determining they are a top candidate. If permission is denied, the reasons why should be discussed with the candidate and the application should be reviewed to see whether contact with current employer is critical to the process.
- Normally, at least two references from previous supervisors or employers should be checked. However, if the individual is an internal candidate and has worked for one supervisor in a department for several years, a thorough check with that supervisor may be sufficient, depending on the circumstances.
- Depending on the requirements of the position, it may be appropriate to conduct a reference check with a previous or current client, colleague, employee supervised, or a senior leader.
- Where more than one reference is contacted, look for consistency in the information provided.
- Questions asked of references must be job-related. Employees conducting reference checks should be aware that inappropriate questions regarding a prospective employee may result in claims of discrimination under the provincial Human Rights legislation.
- The emphasis in questioning will depend on the duties to be performed and, therefore, it is important to analyze the job description prior to contacting the reference to identify criteria to be assessed.
- Notes of the conversation must be taken and these should be signed and dated and copies returned to Human Resources. Human Resources will review the references in conjunction with the Hiring Manager.
- With the workforce becoming more global, hiring managers may encounter references from outside of Canada. For further guidance on checking references internationally, please contact Human Resources.
- Social media background checks are not part of Dalhousie’s hiring and selection procedures. Social media background checks (e.g., Facebook or Twitter) may expose the selection committee to information not relevant to the search and that may be considered protected grounds under Human Rights legislation. These checks may also lead to the inadvertent collection of personal information that is contrary to privacy laws.
- Review our reference checklist form and recommended questioning examples listed below.
If you have any questions on the subject of reference checks, please contact Human Resources. Remember, past performance is the clearest indication of future performance.
- Employment dates (confirm with what is stated on resume)
- Position, organization
- Referee's relationship to employee
- Nature of the job the employee is/was doing
- Key responsibilities
- Quality of work
- Quantity of work output (depending on requirements of position)
- Areas for improvement
- Ability to work effectively under pressure
- Ability to work to deadlines
- Ability to act independently when necessary
- Reaction to constructive feedback
- Ability to build effective working relationships with:
- general public/clients
- Reasons given for leaving position
- Re-employment status
Supervisory/management position examples:
- Leadership style
- Motivating/leading others
- Team building
- Giving feedback